Football season begins for the SEC

It all starts this week, or does it really ever end?

College football season, here in the south at least, isn't ever too far from the minds and conversations of folks. But when the Southeastern Conference head coaches and selected players meet with the media in late July, that means it's truly time.

The SEC office has more credentials requests than ever for this year's SEC Media Kickoff, held at The Wynfrey in Hoover, Ala. Something like 800, which is by far more than any other conference in the country.

Other conferences like to debate that they're up there with the SEC in football. When it comes to media coverage, forget it. The numbers are with the SEC in a big way.

First-year coaches always bring out the crowds. I remember when Mike Shula entered the print media room for his first session at the SEC Kickoff in 2003, the place was packed, standing room only, and even some uncredentialed fans got in.

That the event takes place in metro Birmingham every year makes it that way. I can only imagine what it will be like when Nick Saban makes his first appearance. Not only will the Bama folks be there but the Louisiana media as well along with anyone else in the area. They might have to re-check the fire marshall's regulations for this one. That will happen early on day two, which is Thursday, in the 8:30 to 10:30 time slot.

The way this thing works is that two teams are paired together for a two-hour session. When one head coach and the players he brought are meeting with the print media, the other head coach and players are moving from room to room, visiting with radio people, TV people from ESPN and the networks to LF and the local stations who attend.

Day one on Wednesday has Arkansas and South Carolina paired together in the first time slot from 1-3 p.m., while Kentucky and Auburn are in the second slot from 3-5 p.m.

Thursday morning has Alabama and Vanderbilt going first from 8:30-10:30, followed by Florida and Mississippi State from 10:30-12:30.

On Friday, it's Ole Miss and Georgia in the 8:30-10:30 slot, with Tennessee and LSU from 10:30 -12:30.

Saban is the only new coach in the league this time, and of course he's been here before with LSU. I doubt that any coach there will be more happy to receive all the attention he'll get than Saban. There's some ego spread throughout; it goes with the territory and the adoration and acclaim they get. But Saban will top that list. He'll love it.

The print room was filled when Ed Orgeron spoke at this event for the first time in 2005. People had heard about him. They wanted to see and hear from him themselves.

Each school takes two players. This year Ole Miss and Orgeron are taking BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Marcus Tillman.

The media will wonder aloud and behind the scenes if Houston Nutt has much time left and if so how long. They'll wonder if Steve Spurrier is building toward an SEC East title and a visit to Atlanta anytime soon.

Will Sylvester Croom be here this time next year, they'll ponder. How much time did last season's success buy Rich Brooks? They'll be interested to see how Les Miles handles the fact that so much attention will now be placed on the LSU-Alabama series with Saban walking the opposite sideline. For that matter, they'll want to see how Tommy Tuberville is handling all the Saban hype in that state. Now that should be interesting as well.

They'll figure that Phil Fulmer will show up, although it wasn't too long ago that he didn't when the UT-Bama battle raged off the field. And can Bobby Johnson and Vanderbilt make another run toward a winning season, which the Commodores haven't had in 25 years. Will Mark Richt take Georgia to Atlanta again in December, and will the Bulldogs ever beat Florida?

And, lest we forget, there is one other head coach in the league. All he did in year two was win a national championship. "Can you repeat, Urban?" will be the question for the third-year Gator.

The questions don't change much from year to year, only the faces, which in turn alter the questions a bit.

And while there are always marquee players in the SEC and sometimes really big-name ones, like a Walker or a Jackson or a Wuerffel in years past or a Manning from any era or a McFadden this year, the SEC, and all of college football really, is more about coaches than players. Unlike pro sports where players are usually the headliners first, in college it just seems to be the other way around. The media has something to do with that. And the fact that pro players get paid millions and college players don't.

At the SEC Media Kickoff this time around, there'll be a $4 million a year head coach before us. That's one reason we'll have to get there early on Thursday to get a seat for that particular session.

It should be another interesting week in Birmingham, just like always, which means one important thing. Football season is here.

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